Bottom line, without fruit you get scurvy, and since really to be an acceptable case of scurvy you also need a combination of three of the following five things: eye patch, peg leg, tri-cornered hat, plentiful assortments of rum and probably a tattoo of sorts. However, I also found on Google search (while fighting the brain fart for the disease: “scurvy”) that cancer is also a consequence of fruit deficiency (or cigarettes or drinking or unprotected sex or hard-living or really just bad and unfortunate luck). Thanks, Dr. Furhman. So, instead of drinking your Ovaltine, eat your fruit, kiddo, or else your life is going to suck. I digress.
So, now that I have discussed the base line importance of fruit in the average person’s life, let’s break it down. Why pineapple? Really because it is fantastic and not native to anywhere in the Midwest, or the nation for that matter (with the exception of Hawaii, but we’ll get to that later).
Getting pineapple is like getting a super yummy treat, like when you’re good in church or you didn’t beat up your brother. (Side note: Pineapple is a healthy alternative to rice krispi treats or chips or donuts or Hostess anything or chocolate covered bacon. It also prevents scurvy and cancer.) Pineapple is also on sale about one week in the summer time when it is so God awful hot you can’t even leave your box fan in the window to go into your car (or bike) and drive (or ride) to the store to purchase a fruit that is now only $5.50 a pop versus $7.50: the regular price.
You also know that pineapples are important because of their placement within your local Pick N Save or Piggly Wiggly or Festival or Lund’s or Aldi. Pineapples are always in the front; as if all of the coupon-cutting people of the world don’t already know they’re on sale. I would go to the store with my mom and we would wind amongst the dairies and cheeses (sharp cheddar finely shredded, “It’s fancy,” my mom says). And then pow (or some other graphic novel onomatopoeia of the sorts), men, women and children flitting about the produce. They look like little chipmunks skittering around the towering pyramid of foreign fruit.
My mom would grab my shoulder and say, “Keep your head down, go in and get the greenest looking one.” Sure, send in the kid who is wily and has no remorse for pushing or pulling or biting or hair-pulling or screaming “fire.” It is a mad house. Snag the one at the top. Snatch the one on the bottom, the cornerstone of the pyramid. And the fruit comes a-tumbling down. Now, my $5.50 fruit that wards off scurvy and cancer is now bruised. Shit.
I feel like I’ve shifted my focus. Pineapple (as opposed to watermelon or marshmallows or corn on the cob or bratwursts—although brats are a damn close second) defines Midwest, specifically Wisconsin and Botsford summers. Every summer, my family would traverse the rugged Milwaukee-Suburbs terrain, drive through two-lane highway hell (one lane of which was always closed), and arrive, safely, slightly haggard from the backseat fighting in which my sister and I actively partook. We’d roll out of the car, nursing bites, bruises, and tufts of hair, straight into the arms of our 20 cousins, and 6 sets of aunt and uncles, and several wayside stragglers clad in black, cut off jean shorts, or straight up cow-boy gear. They were my favorite. Gram, Bless Her Soul, would always purchase a pineapple for my mother (even if it was a little “pricey”) to practice cutting them. It took about 21 years of marriage and Mother-In-Law pineapple gifting and a daughter who spent a summer working as a pseudo-chef to teach her how to do it properly. She’s got the hang of it now.
My point is that pineapple, like summer, and life, as it were, happens only for a very short time and you must, taste, enjoy, devour it as quickly as you can. You must savor it past its point of sweetness and know that there is something waiting for you at the end. Another piece, perhaps? A brisk, beautiful autumn? An after-life, or whatever you believe? Pineapple and summer and life must be shared with those you love. Without these things, life is incomplete.
In my family, you knew you were loved when Mom brought home the pineapple (or you snagged it yourself). However, she says in a beautifully articulated Wisconsin accent, “Not ‘til another week, honey, it has to ripen.”
What the hell? Are you kidding me? I almost died. I had bruises. I waited 11 months and 21 days (and fought literally tooth and nail) for a pineapple and you’re going to tell me to wait another week until I can partake in the ambrosia—the freakin’ nectar of the gods. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I will eat a fruit cup. I am still eating fruit to stave off piracy and cancer.
Growing up in a midwestern town, I came to love all things homey. My mom, dad, and sister, derived from the Irish Catholic ancestry, all grew up together sharing all of the amenities of one bathroom and a box fan crammed in a window to promote circulation through our house. That worked as well as tying a hand fan to my wiener dog, Sam, and telling her to run amuck. Real effective. Pineapple season with my family also meant about five to ten more of my mother’s “pretties” (a generic term to mean kitsch) amongst the cornhusk dolls and Oklahoma! plates and Christmas cards we’ve yet to take down and artwork from the children who are so not gifted in that particular area. Ma would arrange the husk-heads around the kitchen, “Just to brighten things up, you know?” Personal favorite seasonal kitsch: the pineapple boat. You cut the pineapple straight on through the center (headdress still firmly attached), use a knife or spoon or ice cream scoop or spatula or (on one very desperate occasion) a turkey baster—not pretty—to scoop out the insides so that you can artfully display some sort of treat inside. It was generally hosting lesser food items such as apples or pears or rice or vegetables or rum—generally white, but then you’re evading your piracy. However, if you want to be a pirate, pineapple is absolutely not the fruit for you.